Welcome to Banned Books Week! The American Library Association is celebrating the freedom to read, September 26 – October 3, 2009. Read all about Banned Books Week at the ALA website.
I’ve invited David Levithan, author of Boy Meets Boy, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and Love is the Higher Law to write a guest post about censorship. As he indicates, it’s question and answer format, based on questions he commonly recieves:
Once again, I’m going to do this in a Q&A format, based on the prompts and questions I’m frequently asked.
Q: As a gay writer who writes a lot about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender characters, you must face a lot of censorship. As your books challenged often?
A: Every now and then I get word of a challenge, and in one case a few years ago I actually had picketers outside a library appearance. But much more common is pre-emptive censorship, where a librarian, teacher, or bookseller will decide not to buy the book for his or her library, classroom, or store solely based on the fact that the book features LGBT characters. Sometimes this decision is based on their own personal beliefs, and a lot of the time this decision is based on fear.
Q: And how to you feel about that?
A: I feel that by failing to provide books with LGBT themes or characters – or by censoring them, if it makes it to that step – you are failing to provide for the LGBT youth and adults in your community, or the youth and adults who have LGBT friends or family members. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a community in this country that didn’t have one or the other. It’s genuinely revolting to me that prejudice against LGBT people or books is still considered acceptable in some quarters. We would never (I hope) say, “I’m sorry, but we don’t have books written by Jews in my library” or “Kids in this community don’t have to deal with black people, so they shouldn’t have to read about them.” But those statements are still being made about LBGT literature. Less and less as time goes by – but it still happens.
Q: How conscious are you of this when you write?
A: Not at all. When I’m writing, I’m not really thinking about the audience. And I’m certainly not thinking of the people who refuse to be the audience.
Q: Why do you find you write about LGBT characters so often?
A: Obviously, being gay has to do with it. And seeing that LGBT stories are underrepresented in our literature has something to do with it. I do think writing can be a radical act, especially if you go out into the world along with the book (as I try to do). But honestly? When I’m writing a story, it’s much more about the characters than any LGBT themes. For my new book, Love is the Higher Law, I knew that two of the three characters would be gay, not because I expected LGBT characters from myself or thought other people expected them of me, but because when I sat down to write and get to know the characters, it was clear they were gay and that their intersection would be of a romantic nature (however failed or successful).
Q: So it’s not written with an agenda?
A: No. Agendas work for essays, but not too much for novels. (At least for me.) All of the potentially political statements in the book came out of the moments being described, not from any preconceived thematic plan.
Q: Such as?
A: Well, I wanted to write about 9/11 and how everyone in New York came together in its aftermath. But when writing about the day itself, I knew there was a little barb in there – because one of the only things bystanders could do on 9/11 to help was to give blood. But because of arcane and prejudiced rules, gay people aren’t allowed to give blood. So even in the time of need, we were being treated as lesser citizens. (The same holds true about the soldiers who were discharged just for being gay.) So that found its way in there. Not because I’d planned it, but because I was describing the day from a particular character’s point of view, and that fit.
Q: Is there anything you’re afraid to write about?
A: I haven’t found it yet.
Thanks so much, David! We appreciate your views on censorship – as an editor, an author, and a reader. May you continue to bring us books that accurately reflect our times.